I’d like to introduce you to my new friend, Libby S.  Libby is a woman, a mother, and wife.  She belongs to the Vizhnitz group of Chassidus [Hasidism].  Libby has agreed to open her private life to all of you, in the hopes of helping me reach my goal on this blog: Jewish unity via mutual respect and education.  I am really grateful to her for this, and look forward to having you all learn from her life.

Please note that English is not Libby’s first language.  Yiddish is her first language.  I have added some translations and clarifications in brackets.

I considered closing the comment section on this post, but after checking with Libby and asking some advice of fellow bloggers, chose to leave it open, with heavier moderation than usual.  I trust my readership with Libby’s feelings and privacy, and she has made herself available to answer questions or comments.  

And…. here’s Libby!

First, I want you to understand that
before I go into the technical details of being Chassidish, you have to know
what Chassidus [Hasidism] is, and what it is based on. Chassidus was founded by the Baal
Shem Tov in the late 1700’s. The foundation of Chassidus is based on improving one’s middos [character traits] of the Eser Sfiros – the ten traits the world was created with.  These are Chochmah, Binah, Daas, Chesed,
Gevurah, Tiferes, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, Malchus
[wisdom, knowledge, insight, kindness, restraint, harmony, eternity, beauty, foundation, and nobility].
These are personalities within each
human being that have to be toiled through to make a person’s neshoma [soul] pure and
holy to reach the potential of his creation. These are based on Kabbalistic
teachings from the Arizal [Rabbi Isaac Luria].
In Chassidus you will find that
there is a Rebbe or spiritual leader that guides and teaches his chassidim [followers] how
to attain the goals in tikkun hamaasim [perfection of deeds] that brings them to the heights of cultivating
these middos discussed above. The Rebbe encourages and inspires the chassidim
with teachings from the Torah, Talmud, Kabbalah and Shulchan Urach [Code of Jewish Law]; how to live
a purposeful life and to get closer to Hashem [God] through mitzvos and maasim tovim [good deeds].
The Baal Shem Tov had 8 great
disciples. These 8 talmidim [students] conveyed the teachings from the Baal Shem Tove in
their own style to their chassidim. Therefore you have today many different
styles of chassidim all striving to do the ratzon Hashem [will of God] through personal
growth in the spirit of our great Chassidic elders.
This was just an introduction so you
understand a little bit of our lifestyle. Now you can appreciate the technical
aspect of how we conduct our day-to-day lives. In reality we are all created
equal. We all strive to raise happy children that are God-fearing Jews and create
a nachas ruach for the Rebono Shel Olam [Master of the Universe] regardless of being chassidish or not.
OOTOB:  What is your name?
Libby:  Chaya Libby S.OOTOB:  Where did you grow up?

Libby:  I was born and bred in Monsey, NY.
OOTOB:  How old are you?
Libby:  I will be 35 in August.OOTOB:  Favorite food?

Libby:  I love food – my size shows it! Solid
good food.  Any food!OOTOB:  Do you have talents/hobbies?

Libby:  I am creative, adventurous, and carefree.
I love to explore nature and history. I am musical. I sing. I write. I love to
learn new things. I am entrepreneurial, owned my own business, and have a knack
for marketing and business development.OOTOB:  Where do you live?

Libby:  Monsey, NY.FAMILY

OOTOB:  How many siblings do you have and where do you fit in?
Brothers/sisters?  How old?

Libby:  I am the oldest of a family of 9. I
have 3 sisters and 5 brothers.  My youngest sibling is a sister and she is 13.OOTOB:  What did your parents do for a living?

Libby:  My mother was always a stay-at-home
mom and my father was a rebbe/menahel [day school rabbi/principal] in a yeshiva all his years (besides for a
short stint as a factory manager for my grandfather’s business – he was supposed
to take over the operations, but later opted out in favor of chinuch [Jewish education]).OOTOB:  How many children do you have?  How old/boys or girls?  Would you
like to have more?

Libby:  I have 8 children bli ayin hara [may there be no evil eye].  5
boys and 3 girls:  Miriam Bruchy, almost 16; Toivy, almost 14; Tzurty, 12; Moshe Chaim, 10; Gitty, 8; Yoseph Shia, almost 7; Yida Leib, 4;
Avrohom, 18 months.

Each child is a precious gift from
above.  Sometimes I am overwhelmed and
sometimes I take it a day at a time with a more carefree twist. I can say I
have my moods about having more. Sometimes I feel all ready and for it, and
sometimes I am very overwhelmed and panic to think of another pregnancy.  Now my feeling and well-being is that if Hashem
wants to give me more children, I will gladly accept.

OOTOB:  What do you and your husband do for a living?
Libby:  I was in the administrator position
in many different roles when my husband was in kollel [full-time paid Torah study program for married men]: yeshiva administrator, head counselor, school government programs administrator. Then, my husband went into the real estate
industry by selling title insurance. When real estate tanked, I was determined
to help my husband start his own business.We set up a small business on the
national level selling toiletries to the hotel industry and eventually doing
business with Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. From conception to success we
worked together beautifully. I was managing the marketing and operations, and
my husband was managing the technical stuff and sales. Unfortunately we had an
investor in the business that didn’t allow us to grow on the scale we wanted
and because of many differences of approach, we sold out our shares. My husband
had a hard time finding a good job in his field. For one year he remained
unemployed (that’s a whole new topic) while I have a clerical job at Aish
Jerusalem Fellowships.  Two weeks ago he was finally offered a great job in the
real estate industry again. So B”H [thank God] he has a very good job now and that’s what
we do for a living.

Most Chassidish women are stay-at-home moms and live a very simple life without much luxury or lavishness. They
expect little for themselves and give their heart and soul to their family and

OOTOB:  How old were you and your husband when you got married?

Libby:  I was 18 and my husband was 19.OOTOB:  How were you set up and how did the dating work?

Libby:  We both are born and bred Monsey-ers.
We actually grew up on the same block as young children. The families knew each
other quite well. My mother-in-law gave cake-decorating classes. I took the course at the
time that the shidduch [match] was redt [suggested].  For 3
weeks my parents did their research on the boy. When my parents believed that it
was the right match I met my in-laws and then my future husband at our home. After talking for about an hour to my future husband I was hooked and
ready to marry him. We were engaged the following night.I know it sounds
strange, but somehow, chassidisha girls depend a lot more on their parents’
expertise and they trust that their parents understand what is good for them
and they leave the main decision up to the parents. The official meeting is to
make sure the couple appeals to each other and there is what to love after
marriage. We spoke again after the l’chaim and the vort [engagement celebrations] and we didn’t speak
from after the vort until our wedding 11 months later.  In fact, just thinking about my chosson or
seeing him through the cracks in shul, throughout my engagement, made my heart
leap with joy and excitement.

I felt so privileged and so thankful for all the
wonderful things we heard about him.  Hashem is mezaveg zevigim [brings couples together] and it is
amazing how my husband is the best person I could have ever wished to marry.

OOTOB:  Can you describe what your wedding was like?
Libby:  A beautiful event with family and
At first was the reception and badeken [custom where groom is danced in to veil his bride]. My chosson [groom], flanked by his father and my father, came to badek me very
solemnly. Then we went outdoors to the chuppah. My mother and my mother-in-law led me to the chuppah. My head and hair were covered completely with an opaque
veil. The chosson is mekadesh [sanctifies the bride] with the ring on the kallah’s [bride’s] finger. The chosson’s
Rosh Yeshiva [dean of his rabbinical school] officiated at the chuppah and
the Rebbe [Grand Rabbi of the Vizhnitz sect] came to say the brachos [blessings].After
the kesubah [reading aloud of the ketubah] and  the brachos, the veil is removed from the kallah’s face  and the kallah and chosson  hold hands and
together walk towards the yichud [private] room. In the yichud room nothing major happens
besides for yichud [being alone together], my new sheitel [wig] is put on, and we eat the meal together and
take some pictures.

Then there is the dancing, women and men separately. After
bentching [Grace After Meals] is the mitzvah tantz [special kabbalistic wedding dance].  The kallah
and women go into the men’s side and there is a badchan [rhyming, Torah-themed musical MC] calling up
uncles, grandfathers, father-in-law, and father to come dance with the kallah with a
gartel [traditional Chassidish belt]. The climax is when the kallah dances with her father holding hands
(without the gartel). It’s a very emotional dance.  It signifies the girl leaving her
father’s house and cleaving to her new husband. The epitome of the night is the chosson and kallah dance holding hands. Don’t forget that there isn’t much of a
relationship yet between the two, but this dance physically brings them both
together in a very beautiful and romantic way. This is the story of our

OOTOB:  How do you and your husband stay connected while raising a busy large family
and with all the community obligations?
Libby:  It is tough.  We try to
catch up on each other’s lives during meal times and Shabbos. Sometimes when we
drive to a simcha [wedding/bar mitzvah] in the city it is our time to reconnect and discuss pressing
issues.  In the four years we owned our
business we would have daily meetings to discuss business and family issues. We
also traveled together for shows and events which was a nice time to spend
together without the hustle of our noisy life interfering.  We don’t just go away on vacation for many
reasons including children, minyanim [the obligation of men to pray three times a day with a minyan], kosher, and [not wishing to overindulge in] materialism.OOTOB:  How would you describe how you and your husband share work and parenting

Libby:  My husband helps with bathing and
bedtimes. He does some grocery shopping and other errands. My husband learns
with the boys every Shabbos and helps a lot on Fridays to manage the children’s chores
and cook the cholent.My husband also prepares the Shabbos table and may
sometimes wash dishes and floors if necessary.
I take care of the cooking, baking, laundry and keeping the house in
order. I also do the clothing shopping and most grocery shopping. My daughters also help
a lot with keeping things tidy and helping with the little ones.


OOTOB:  What is your favorite part of being a mother?

Libby:  This is a hard question to answer. I
don’t have any one favorite part. I am grateful that I am a mother. I try my
best to be a good mother. I can’t say I am 100% successful all the time. It’s a
continued challenge.
My children have amazing and unique
personalities. None of them are the same. They each come with different
challenges and success stories. I find that figuring each child out and helping
them along on their own special ways is the most amazing part of being a
mother. I can still use some help… Your services as parenting coach can come in
OOTOB:  🙂  If a chassidishe woman doesn’t want to be a mother, is that OK?
Libby:  Most Chassidisha  girls want to be mothers.  I would assume that if someone doesn’t there
is a valid emotional or mental reason why she would not want to have children.
It is OK if she discusses it with a Rav [rabbi] or professional. It’s definitely not
the norm.
OOTOB:  If a chassidishe woman doesn’t want to have a lot of children, is that OK?
Libby:  If having many children interferes
with her health, emotionally, physically and mentally it is mostly OK if she
discusses it with her Rav.
OOTOB:  What does your community provide or what systems or services are in
place to make it easier for the women to mother so many children?
Libby:  There are many services that assist
the new mother. It almost makes me look forward to the next birth. First of
all, the Mother-Baby Homes that are very popular in the tri-state area are a
treat for a new mother. They are lavished with delicious gourmet meals,
luxurious accommodations, and entertainment while socializing with other postpartum
women and mainly, resting. Their newborns are cared for by top-notch nurses
around the clock. Most mothers of large families go away for a week to one of
these facilities and have the time of their lives to rest and to have fun.I
remember one of the Catholic nurses said that when she gives birth she will put
on a snood [cloth head-covering, to impersonate a religious woman] and come here because there is nothing like this out there. There
are also groups of women, usually classmates from school, that make each other
hot lunches for a week postpartum.  There
are also chessed [acts of kindness] volunteers that help out mothers of young children with
homework, supper and some cleaning if they are overwhelmed.

But this is not just for Chassidish
ladies.  All Orthodox women use these services.


OOTOB:  How does your sect of Chassidism dress that is different from other
Chassidic groups?  What is the significance of that?

Libby:  We don’t wear clingy clothing thatis revealing, or long and flowing to the floor.
We wear mid-calf length skirts and dresses, no  t-shirts, only collared and cuffed tops, or
vests and jackets over long-sleeved shells. We wear opaque tights to cover fully our legs
and feet.  Most of us wear beige
pantyhose with a seam in the back to show that these are tights and not
uncovered legs.I was looking at some
pictures of Queen Elizabeth at her Diamond Jubilee and couldn’t get enough of
her dress code being so similar to the way we would dress. No wonder: she is a
Bas Melech  [royalty]. We are Bnos Melochim [children of royalty] and we dress like royalty. Tasteful and discreet.  No flashy reds and never denim, yet trendy
and cute as you describe it on your
blog.  Make-up and fragrance we wear
discreetly in very natural and subtle tones. The majority of us don’t wear any
eye-makeup at all. Some do.

OOTOB:  How do the women cover their hair?  What is the significance?

Libby:  You may not be aware but we shave
our hair completely. These are minhagim [customs] that are based on many reasons. Here
are some reasons: 1) it is based in kabbalah  2) married women shouldn’t have even one
uncovered hair 3) sheilos [questionable situations in Jewish law] that can arise when preparing for mikvah.
In the home, or casually, I wear a
turban or a pre-tied bandanna on my head. When I am dressed I wear a synthetic
sheitel with a scarf-hat to cover most of it. This is our tradition.
OOTOB:  Is it hard for you and your husband to follow these rules?  What’s the
hardest part?
Libby:  Not at all. We wouldn’t want it any
other way. My husband appreciates when I look pleasant. I do make sure that my
clothing and accessories are attractive to him, and to him only.  Privately for my husband, I will do my face
completely with eye makeup and everything else, but I will never be seen like
that in public, not even in front of my children.
I am by nature more conservative in
taste so it really isn’t hard for me to dress conservatively.
The hard part is that we generally
don’t drive. Sometimes women do get heterim [leniencies] to drive, but most women in my sect
don’t drive. I find it very hard and I sometimes feel shackled that I have to
depend on my husband or taxis for my transportation, but that is my mesiras
[act of self-sacrifice for a higher cause].LEAVING/ENTERING

OOTOB:  If a chassidic person wants to become non-chassidic, is that OK?

Libby:  If the reason for his becoming
non-chassidic is for him to grow in Avodas Hashem [his relationship to God] then it is OK.  It only becomes not OK when someone is so
confused and they don’t know right from wrong and go completely off the derech [leave the path of Jewish observance].OOTOB:  If a non-chassidic person wants to become chassidic, is that OK?

Libby:  Same thing. Are they doing it to
grow in yiddishkeit [Judaism]? Then it is accepted and welcomed. (My father is not from a
Chassidic home. He is a gevorene
[Chassidic newbie!]).RANDOM

OOTOB:  Many people see in the news the degree to which Chassidic men and women wish
to remain separate.  Can you explain why?

Libby:  First I want to say something about
the media. The secular media in Israel has exploited the idealism of some zealots to categorize their way of life as a way of life for all chareidim [ultra-Orthodox].
Most of these stories were deliberately provocative toward chareidim to make a
good news sensation.
Chassidisha girls are raised gender-separate. Besides for her brothers, father, grandfathers and uncles, a girl
around the age of 10 and older doesn’t feel comfortable playing with boys or
having any kind of relationship with boys or men. This is to safeguard her kedusha
[holiness] and prevents her from transgressing serious sins in the future.  This has always been a chareidi thing, not
just Chassidic.
You and I know the results of the
breakdown of all moral values within the general population due to lack of
tznius [modesty] and separation.
I also want to add to your feminism
topics you write on your blog. Feminism, in my opinion, is for a woman to want
to be, act and behave like a woman, not like a man.  Wanting to be equal to a man is masculine in
my view.  Being discreet, modest and
ladylike is a feminine thing. That is the beauty and feminism of a Chassidic
women. She will not mingle with the men, or wish to express herself, or show
her talent, equal to her male counterparts.
OOTOB:  What is your favorite part of being Chassidish?
Libby:  The spirituality and simplicity are
a warm combination.

OOTOB:  Which part would you change?
Libby:  With our rich heritage and tradition,
Chassidic girls and women are not confident or proud enough. The general public
looks at Chassidim with distrust and disdain from misunderstanding our way of
life. If I would have the ability to pump more pride and confidence in the
youth so they can stand up for themselves in the big world out there instead of
shrinking back, I would change that. A little bit of assertiveness can help.Although I am very chassidish, I am more open-minded and worldly than many
chassidisha women.  Therefore, I took the courage to accept this interview
invitation. Most people I know wouldn’t have agreed to answer your questions.

OOTOB:  I know. I really appreciate that, and I’m sure my readers do, too.


OOTOB:  Is it hard for people to make ends meet with such large families?

Libby:  It is a struggle.
OOTOB:  Does your community have any special services to help with the financial
Libby:  There are lots of organizations that
help out the needy with food, money, clothing, and the like. Most people have
their safety net of how they get by the month and don’t have to rely on hand-outs. For those that do, the services are there.
OOTOB:  What other ways do people manage with the financial burden?
Libby:  Many Chassidic men and women are
small business owners and bring home really decent earnings. For those that have
simpler jobs, they may have support from their parents.  Others may have to rely on government
assistance.OOTOB:  At what age do the husbands work?

Libby:  When they are ready to join the
workforce. Many men learn in kollel full-time a considerable number of years.
When the situation makes it necessary for them to bring in a regular income,
they will go find a job or take career training courses like computer
programming, accounting, business management, special education, and other
courses available for the frum [religious] community. These courses are gender-separate and
are held in community centers as opposed to colleges.
OOTOB:  What kind of jobs do they get without the benefit
of a college degree?
Libby:  Teachers, clergy, managers, warehouse and manufacturing, construction, accountants, business owners etc…***

I’d like to end with something I was reading in the
Hamodia [Orthodox newspaper] of last week. It is an analysis on the results of a UJA Federation
study of 2011 that just came out. The study talks a lot about the explosive
growth of the Orthodox community in the greater New York Area. While the UJA
paints a bleak picture of the Ultra-Orthodox about their education systems,
support of Israel, and poverty, Rabbi Aaron Twerski [a Orthodox rabbi] writes that “we must invite
them to our communities so they can understand that we are not an other-worldly
cult. The overwhelming majority of chareidim are engaged in commerce and work
hard to support their families and the institutions that service them.”

Dr. Chaim Waxman suggested in his
analysis “there might yet be place for common ground between the UJA and the Orthodox communities if we focus on problems that cut across religious
We must focus on the things that
unite us, not what sets us apart. I found this interview to focus on what sets
us apart. We Chassidic women and mothers face the same challenges as our
non-hasidic counterparts on issues of raising children, education, making a
living, giving to society, taking care of elderly parents, keeping house, continued
education, supporting worthy causes, and building a great
future for mankind.[This was for me, Ruchi]: I would love to follow up with a phone conversation to
clear away some of the stigmas attached to ultra-Orthodox or Chassidim. Please
call me at [and here Libby gave me her phone number] evenings.

OOTOB:  Thank you so much, Libby, for your candor and willingness to open a door that will hopefully lead the way to more unity and more understanding.  I really am so grateful and enjoyed learning all about you.

Thanks, to my readership, for earning your trust with Libby’s story.  I look forward to your questions, observations, and comments.